Learning From Leading
As an avid reader, it was in elementary school that I started reading the various parenting books I found around my house. My favorite was reading the comics from the “How To Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk” by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. They really inspired me, such that at 11 years old, I started as a mother’s helper; to date I have been a Junior Counselor, Camp Counselor, Hebrew School Teacher, Tutor, Nanny, Babysitter, Gymnastics Coach, Sabbath Youth Leader, Holiday Program Counselor and Friendship Circle volunteer.
All these titles remained on the down low because I never wanted them to take away from my qualifications as an aspiring business professional. How could I learn about trends, Microsoft Office and the S&P 500 from leading food activities with eight year olds?
I realize that even though it may seem like I cannot learn specific business skills from leading and watching children, my business acumen has actually improved as a result. Some of the more obvious skills I have gained are leadership, organization, planning, executing and adaptability, but some of the less obvious skills I have learned are patience, active listening and effective communication.
When working with children I need confidence to get a whole room’s attention, and remain upbeat even when something difficult might be going on, related or unrelated to the group I am currently working with. This was always harder when I was being watched by the parents. Over time, my confidence has grown tremendously in this area, and I have found that I have become comfortable sharing my thoughts, when appropriate, in front of my peers and co-workers.
Organization and planning for youth events and lessons requires understanding the group of children I will be addressing, reaching out to all the necessary parties to ensure that the events I want to run can happen and mapping out the times for each of the activities. I implement new projects in the same manner: I map out how long each portion of the project should take and in what order I would like to get it done, and then contact all the parties involved to start coordinating.
Execution and adaptability are valuable skills in education just like in business. Often I plan an activity thinking it will go well, but none of the children end up interested in it, so I pivot and replace the activity with my backup, much like how I would handle the situation in any professional setting. I always make sure to have backup ideas and solutions because I know what can happen without them. Like children, business professionals expect ideas and solutions, and sometimes one is not enough.
After running events with children I always mentally debrief and often take notes. Same goes for after a meeting or presentation. I treat the feedback I receive from children, peers and co-workers with equal importance, because in both situations I want to make sure I am doing my job to the best of my ability.
The various ways I have had to communicate with parents has only helped me throughout my professional business journey. The variety of face-to-face communication at pick up and drop off, weekly emails and text and recap newsletters has only made me more aware of modes of communication. When working with children, one of the most important pieces of information I always need to be made aware of is if the child has any allergies or important medical requirements. This sensitivity to asking has translated into thinking beforehand about what the really important questions are and remembering to ask them. The key is that the way you can relay the information for the receiver in the best way they will understand it and see it, is the best way to pass along the information. For example, when watching children, instead of sending important information in emails which often get lost in the shuffle for parents, really important information is put on stickers on the child’s shirt.
Often I find myself working with both boys and girls of a broad age range. This same diversity is present in professional settings, and in both instances, addressing everyone at once can be difficult, and finding the right way to do so does not always seem possible. I have learned though that the key is to ensure that I try to address all types of learning styles and everyone in the room. When working with kids in the classroom, I have auditory pieces, hands on projects and fun visuals. When giving presentations, I might tell a story, list straight facts and show data visualizations and representations. It can be hard to not give a lot of attention to children who are talkative and answer questions, but purposefully asking the quieter children questions that are related to them encourages them to be more vocal. I follow this same thought process when giving work presentations. When I am looking to really achieve group participation and gain feedback, I directly ask questions to my peers and coworkers, or have small activities that foster total participation.
I have a philosophy that I follow in my approach to leading children. It is simple really: treat kids with true respect, and remember that they are much more cognizant and present than we realize. I remember how I was treated by adults growing up, the times when I felt like my thoughts and feelings did not matter to them, or they discussed things right in front of me they assumed I did not understand. So while I work very hard to hear and validate the children I work with, I think the same respect needs to be applied in the workplace. I intend to give my peers and co-workers the respect I expect. I do this by acknowledging everyone’s ideas and opinions and not laughing at an idea that may really be truly useless. Just the fact that someone is contributing an idea at all is worth something.
So. To all my fellow business students out there who are teachers or youth leaders on the side, know that you are gaining skills for the corporate world as well.
Photo Caption: Books on parenting inspired the author to work with children
Photo Credit: The Commentator